I fell asleep thinking about it. This morning it was prominent on my mind and weighing on my heart. It impedes upon every sense. The image is forever seared on my soul. My brothers, 21 to be exact, backs to the ocean that separate us, kneeling in cue as their bright orange jumpsuits vividly stand out from the veiled ISIS warriors in black. My family was kidnapped and ultimately executed for the faith that runs deeper than any blood flowing through our veins. This faith, following our Messiah Jesus Christ, is the tie that binds us together forever. ISIS villians impotently veiling their faces as they brazenly taunt and bid a coming for us all.
It seems impossible to delegate words that accurately convey how my brothers’ final moment now lives on within me. Certainly I am not alone. Sadness? Sure there is plenty of that. But something greater is slowly rising from deep in the unknown places of my soul. In the midst of the somber darkness of sorrow rises what can only be described as a phoenix of hopeful purpose. Beauty from ashes, now this is a new and fitting description of a timeless truth. A never before experienced knowing that our faith in Jesus is precious and valuable far beyond compare.
Yes, as a pastor I thought I knew the treasure I have in my Savior. Yet this is a never before experienced depth of that knowing. The faith in Jesus that ties strangers from across distant lands into an eternal forever family, it is worth living and truly worth dying for. We westerners seem to only know the living part. Ironically, our understanding of truly living has experienced stunted growth because the richness experienced through death for our faith is so far removed from our daily life. We are safe and sound from persecution that will cost us our last breath; at least for now.
How are we to respond? Please do not misunderstand the question. I am not interested in rallying warriors. I am searching for Holy Spirit revealed truth from brothers and sisters entrusted to be carriers of the Good News. Shepherds of the flock and image bearers of our God and King, how are we to respond? Contrary to what our emotions are screaming, there are clear directives for this very circumstance. Persecution and even death are not new to following Jesus. In fact, persecution is a promise of following Jesus in a world that rejected and continues to reject Him.
In John 15 Jesus says, “20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.”
In 2 Timothy 3 Paul tells Timothy, “12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived. 14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.”
We must remain faithful. This is not a matter of fight or flight. Running is not an option; nor is fighting. Ephesians 6 reads, “12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground…”
- It Takes Courage.
Just because we are in a battle does not mean we are to wage war with the world. Why? Because we are called to bring salvation to the world that is enslaved to enemy. We are protected by truth, righteousness, salvation, peace, faith, the word of God, and prayer. These are the tools given to us to remain. Come what may, whether life or death. We are to stand our ground with unwavering courage, for the victory has already been won and the temporary loss has already been exchanged for eternal reward. We must remain, and when fear rises within, remember God’s words of promise in Joshua 1, “9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
- It Takes Commitment.
Why is hostility our immediate reaction to persecution and injustice? The fallen humanity of our soul still struggles to dominate our redemption. A friend of mine posted a link to the story about our brothers on Facebook. The first comment on that post read, “…nuke them already.” It is a challenge to remain in charge of our carnality. We want life to be fair. We want justice. An eye for an eye. A life for a life. We need a biblical reality check. In Matthew 5 Jesus teaches, 38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
Jesus came and told us that all is NOT fair in love and war. Yes, there is a real and tangible war waged on those who follow Jesus. We are not called to engage the war with a fight, rather to stand in the midst of the battle as carriers of the Love that died so that all humanity may choose to live eternally. This kind of response demands a daily death to self and a moment to moment choice to remain committed to the cause of Christ Jesus; to seek and save those who are lost. This is not an ideology but the cost of commitment to the cause. In Matthew 16 Jesus made it clear, 24 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
- It Takes Compassion.
Is anything worth more than anyone’s soul? Not to Jesus. Jesus died for all humanity. As followers of Jesus we are expected to emulate His example. If we continue on in Matthew 5 Jesus teaches, 43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
As pastors and leaders among the Church we are being looked to for guidance and understanding as the flock grapples with loss, despair, and fear. It is important that we remember that the loss of our brothers at the hands of ISIS is not political. Our response should not be about politics. It is about people. People are the most precious commodity in God’s Kingdom. People are meant for eternal vibrant life. People are worth the ultimate price, that being the death of our Savior Jesus. That death makes eternal life available for ALL people who choose to truly live by Jesus. We are not at war with people. We are in a spiritual battle for all people’s eternity. This fight is not with human beings, or even a segment of humanity. We stand in the midst of a battle being waged by powers and principle forces of the dark evil one in spiritual realms. This is not literary fantasy. This is spiritual reality active in the physical world. It is time we choose a Kingdom Perspective. #PRAYforISIS #LOVEbeyondREASON #choosetheCAUSEofCHRIST #peopleMATTER